Preface: I am a stay at home mother in Brooklyn, NY. I’m home with my 2 year old and an 8 month old daughters. Early thirties, if that matters.
At some point in my life, maybe in my early twenties, I decided that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom (SAHM). That was definitely #goals for me. At the time, it felt like the best thing to do. The intention was to be home with them as long as possible before they eventually go out into the world by themselves. I especially wanted to use that time at home to build their brain and strengthen all the “self” stuff: self-esteem, self-confidence, self-worth, etc. Being at home (and maybe even homeschooling) was the plan. I thought if I played a big part in their lives — with all my wisdom and life experiences- they’d be strong enough to face anything that comes their way when I “released them” out into the world.
What a fantasy world I was living in! First, there is no bubble that they would live in until I “release them out into the world.” Life happens everyday, to them, around them, and even through them. So there’s that. Secondly, I’m never done growing so my plan to impart all that I learned in my life is a little short-sighted. I can teach them all that I learned until they born, but I’m learning everyday so there’s more lessons to learn and give them every single day. I’m never “fully cooked” in that way. And three: staying at home and even homeschooling doesn’t really mean being at home all the time. The world is a classroom, we learn while we experience life.
Being at home for the last two and a half years has been one of the best experiences of my life. Two beautiful pregnancies and two brilliant, beautiful babies to show for it. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. It has it’s ups and downs and it requires a lot patience, stamina, foresight to do it powerfully. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s not common in today’s society (less than 30% of women with children under 18 years old stay home) and I was fine being in the minority. I has been an honor and really a privilege- none of this is lost on me. But, now, I’m transitioning out.
I dreamed of doing it. I did it, lived it, got the t-shirt. Now I must bow out gracefully. The reasons below could be stand alone think-pieces but I’ll spare you. Let me preface by adding: these are reasons for me and my personal make up. They may not be true for everyone.
1. It doesn’t match who I am, as a person.
Before having children, I was a very inventive and enterprising person. I used to think of inventions as a child- a LOT- possibly, one a day. I dreamt up the Roomba when I was 8 years old because I didn’t like doing my chores. It was more of a remote controlled vacuum in my mind because I had remote controlled car toys. From then into adulthood, I’ve started many-a-businesses. I never had a lemonade stand, but I used to design, make and sell clothes in high school. I’m a maker, a doer, a creator. For some reason, I let the side of me slip away when I became a parent as if I had to trade one for the other. It took a while, but I’m coming to the conclusion that this is not the case. I don’t have to melt away Janine to become a great mother. I can be a great Janine and a great mother…and great other things too. My intentions were great, but I never thought to ask myself if being a stay-at-home mother matched my personality.
No one ever suggests taking a Myers-Briggs test to see if staying at home is for you.
I’m also aware that it’s possible to be enterprising as a stay at home mother- it’s been done. I don’t want to do that. I actually want the separation. The way that I “stay at home mom” (if it were a verb), is very consuming — in a way that there’s little space for anything else. I go into more detail in reason #4.
But, in short, I need to be doing more, for me. Personal accomplishment can come from many many sources, and I’m here for all of them.
2. Back in the day, staying at home was done differently.
When people stayed home with their children in past generations, they were usually living in a community with family, tribe and/or trusted neighbors. I have a version of that but it takes a much greater effort than my foremothers. Instead of spending time interviewing babysitters and nannies, people would easily drop their child off at a neighbor’s house and go about their day. Instead of planning, shopping for and cooking dinner several times a week, it used to be easy to eat dinner at Aunt “Such-and-Such’s” house next door or grandma’s house around the corner. Today, the way my life is set up, my tribe has a home base in Brooklyn but their lives are global. They get paid in many currencies. Limitless beings, they are, and I’m lucky to know them. When I need a sitter “real quick” my first question is not, “can you watch the babies?” It’s usually “Are you in town?” then “Are you free to watch the babies?” There’s a different level of ease. Things used to be more seamless, I imagine. Sometimes I feel like an analog girl in a digital world (shout out to Erykah Badu for that line).
It used to be that when a family had a child, the whole community had a child. Now, “they” (as in that family) had a child. We live in silos. We lost community and all that comes with it. I won’t get on my soapbox here, but just know, I could *BLINK.* Today I’m scrapping together mom groups, babysitters, and support systems to do something that was done so seamlessly before- at least I think that’s the case.
3. It can build resentment both ways.
In short, if we’re always together, a co-dependency can grow and expectations can brew. On the child’s side, “mom’s always around, her world revolves around us.” Do you see the problem there? If there is any deviation from “mom always being around,” they may internalize that negatively. AND/OR they may also expect the world to revolve around them (or their romantic partner’s world) and when they find out that’s not the case, insert problems. On the parent side: “I’m giving my life/time/energy to my children, their needs come above all.” Later when they leave the house as adults, the parent may resent the child because the parent didn’t meet their own needs in those 18+ years. Or the child does not reach the potential the parent expected: insert resentment.
I’m a whole person with varied interests- not just my children. My children should see that in me, learn that about themselves… and everyone, really.
4. There is no balance. At least, the way I’m doing it.
Being at home, I do a LOT! It takes up a lot of mental and physiological “bandwidth.” So much so, I wrote a whole post about it. I wear many many hats and like I’ve mentioned, I lost myself in the process. Before deciding to transition out of being a SAHM, I was all mom…barely wife, barely, sister, barely friend, most importantly, barely Janine. It’s our nature as women to nurture and give and give and give. Also, as women, if we transition to motherhood, all we know is sacrifice. From the moment we find out that we are pregnant, we stop eating/drinking certain things, our bodies shape-shift, bones move, hormones run rampant without warning or consent…hell, a whole person emerges from our person. From inception, we surrender a lot of control and we give and give and give. It’s awesome, beautiful and why we are walking alchemy…magic personified. But we also have to live a life that’s sustainable. When there is no balance, it’s not sustainable in the long run.
4a: I do the work of at least 5 people.
For my household, I cook the food, keep the house clean, do the laundry, water the plants, refill all housewares, toiletries, and the refrigerator, I pay the bills online and keep a spreadsheet of annual expenses (shout out to our +750 credit scores), I shop for baby clothes (and donate the old ones), I plan the family and personal trips, I make the dental and doctor appointments for 5 people, I do the hair&clip the nails (babies), I buy and send the greeting cards, plan the bday parties, I replace the buttons on clothes and hem the pants, I teach the babies sign language, numbers, letters, colors and shapes, I research and tour the daycares and schools, I organize the playdates and enriching outings… and sometimes, I get the car washed and serviced. Meanwhile, breastfeeding an infant (which, to this day, I can’t quite articulate or quantify how much energy and brain space it actually uses) AND try my damnedest to be my best self: with patience, compassion, and grace.
Don’t get me wrong, my husband definitely does some of these things too. Think of a Venn Diagram of “things we do ‘round here.” He has a list, I have a list, and there are places where we do the same things ‘round here. I listed these things to illustrate, what I do takes up a lot of mental space. “Quitting,” as I affectionately call it, is one step of the pendulum swinging in another, more balanced direction. Delegation and automation will also be methods of finding balance.
Since I’m privy to the fact that creating imbalance is my proclivity, I need to be mindful of that not happening in the next stage of my life — no matter what it is. Balance. Balance. Balance. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my time here at “Stay At Home Life, Incorporated” is that I need to create balance for myself.
Just because I can do it all doesn’t mean I should or have to do it all.
So here I am. I dreamt, I did it and now want something different. I’ve made peace with my decision to stop breastfeeding (gasps across the internet). It’s fine, she’ll live. I’ve made peace with my decision to not be at home with my children. It’s best for the whole family. I need to be my best self in order to be the best anything else for anyone else (mother, wife, sister, friend, etc). The airlines always tell us to put on our air masks first then assist someone else- including children. This is what I’m doing. I’m putting my air mask on first. Emphasis on “air”…it’s light, it flows, it’s breath, it’s life-giving and life-sustaining, it’s active. I’m getting my life! Ok?!
Being a stay-at-home mom was a great idea and I’m glad that I tried it. But now, I’m crystal clear that it’s time for me to move on and try a new thing on my bucket list. Will I ever return to this life? I can’t definitively say yes or no, honestly. I just know that it’s not for me at this time. Whatever is next, I’ll create that. I’m currently looking for work but I’m also courting another business idea that’s been swirling around for awhile now. Will I be a working mom or a mompreneur? I’ve never lived as either one, but I’m excited to create her. Onward and Upward! I’m not quitting being a mother, I’m simply choosing another version of motherhood.
Last but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say how grateful I am for the opportunity and support to be home with our children. It has been like nothing I’ve ever experienced and I have such a greater respect and appreciation for my husband who has been the sole breadwinner…in 21st century Brooklyn, New York. That is not a small feat and he has done so without complaint. So major shout out to my husband because I couldn’t fathom a better partner in this journey.
‘Til next time friends…